Smuggling drugs into prisons hurts both inmates and prison staff

Kati Gardella, Crier staff

Considering that the vast majority of inmates either have a history of drug addiction or are undergoing a battle with addiction, prisons must be aware of the potential dangers that this entails.

Many measures are in use to prevent contraband from infiltrating the security of the prison. But are these enough to prevent dangerous drug-related incidents from occurring?

Since September 1, a total of 49 different employees have developed symptoms of drug exposure in their prison work environment. There were 22 separate incidents of the exposure, at nine different prison facilities in Pennsylvania, which include Albion, Brenner, Camp Hill, Fayette, Greene, Mercer, Rockview, Smithfield, and Somerset.

A similar incident happened at the Allegheny County Jail in Ohio, where 20 people were sickened. Also, at Ross Correctional Institution in Ohio, 30 people were treated for exposure to a heroin and fentanyl mixture.

An inmate who exhibited the most severe symptoms (sweating, nausea, and drowsiness) was found unconscious by guards. The prison staff who attended to the inmate consequently fell ill.

Common symptoms of the Pennsylvania incidents included dizziness, nausea, and tingling skin. Prison staff felt undeniably physically sick from exposure.

In four of the incidents, their illness was so severe that treatment with naloxone (the drug given to stop overdoses) was administered.

The Corrections Department ordered a system-wide lockdown. This means that normal operations of the prison were completely suspended, with inmates barely being allowed to leave their cells.

These are undesirable conditions, but the situation necessitated it, with the confusion and panic caused among staff. For a while, newspapers reporting the sicknesses had described it a “Mystery Illness,” plaguing different state prison facilities.

The apparent culprit determined after extensive drug testing was synthetic marijuana that is both a clear and odorless substance and was likely smuggled in through the mail. It is not certain that this drug is what affected all the staff, as some of the ill staff tested negative on it.

Drug smuggling is inherently a bad act.

The presence of drugs in prison is going to undoubtedly increase violence. There will be competition from those who seek the contraband, which will likely result in physical fights.

If the substance is mind-altering, this will impact the behavior of inmates. Aside from the general increase in risk in the environment, enormous health risks are present.

With over 50 prison staff affected by the drug exposure as collateral damage to the inmate’s use, it is clear that is not only the inmates who knowingly ingested the drug who were affected. It is lucky that no deaths have resulted from the incidents.

The incidents take a lot of trust and privileges away from inmates, who were barely even let outside of their cells to shower.

The greatest consequences are present for the inmates who had no part in sneaking in synthetic marijuana, as they were punished simply because the person or group who engineered the smuggling is unknown.

Visiting privileges were suspended during the incident, and some prisons are even enforcing lifetime visiting bans against any prison visitor caught smuggling drugs.

This is an effective deterrent if the potential smuggler has a loved one in the prison facility who they do not want to be banned from seeing.

New security measures include body scanners installed at two prisons in Pennsylvania; SCI Coal Township and SCI Huntingdon. These are effective at alerting when people are attempting to smuggle in drugs, but the strong downside is that they cost approximately $100,000 each.

There are 22 state prisons in Pennsylvania alone, so it is unlikely that financial resources are available to cover the cost.

While detained, inmates should receive counseling that is focused on overcoming addictions. Since the suspected drug that caused the illnesses is both scentless and clear, and technology that can detect it is so expensive, the best solution is to make inmates not want to do the smuggling in the first place.

Hopefully, the affected institutions will recover effectively and confidently resume normal operations.